The Misfit Economy: lessons in creativity from pirates, hackers, gangsters, and other informal entrepreneurs by Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips
This book tells the stories of entrepreneurs who are more commonly found in the “underground economy.” These would be the folks whose trades aren’t accepted in mainstream society. I picked up this book because, like some of the folks interviewed for this book, I consider myself a misfit. I am quirky and weird. I speak my mind and don’t wear business suits to work. I forget my manners when I get excited in meetings. I am an artist. I wanted to read a book about being creative in the business world. Too often, I find business people boring. I find a stronger commitment to the status quo than to innovation and bravery. What I found was that this book told the stories of folks who have had to be creative to make their businesses work. The authors explore the commonalities between the misfits and share what difference they make in the business world. They argue, and I agree, that we all have something to learn from them.
According to Clay and Phillips, misfits are natural risk takers, are counter-cultural, challenge systems, and are self-driven. What popped out to me as the most eye-opening, is the importance of informality and self-governance to the misfit. It’s not simply that the misfit is informal or cannot obey orders from someone else. It’s that without the permission to self-govern and to be informal, the misfit’s creativity dies. This was a theme throughout the book that came alive to me, and thus, I’d like to do a little self reflecting.
Informality (could be interpreted as lack of structure from an outside party like a boss or workplace atmosphere) provides the space for me to be strategic, creative, and adaptable within the demands of the industry. There is flexibility in informality. Informality gives me the space to respond to what is alive in me at that moment. Because of informality, I can let inspiration and ideas govern my productivity. Within a formal structure, I would have to shelve the ideas and come back to them later. The risk for me, and I’m curious if other creatives agree, is that if I wait too long to follow an idea, the energy behind it will be gone. The idea will be lost. The inspiration dead. Informality is essential for me to act on inspiration.
Self-governance isn’t too different from informality, in my interpretation. Within self-governance, I set the goals and the incentives to act. I am accountable to the standards I hold for myself. This works for me because I have higher standards for myself than anyone else. There is accountability within self-governance because I must be attune to myself and what is alive within me. Within these two opportunities, I can be creative.
These are two traits that are essential for the success and productivity of Studio 2 Ceramics. We have regular set studio hours, but have reserved the right to listen to what we need in the moment. If we are tired and in need of rest, after ruining many mugs, we have learned that it is better to stay out of the studio. If we are motivated and excited by a project, we follow that energy and stay in the studio past closing time. We are accountable to each other, our customers, and ourselves. But we are self-governing. We set the boundaries, the expectations, and the method.
Reflecting back over just these two traits in our work place, I am filled with gratitude. Not everyone has the opportunity to follow their creativity. Not everyone can ride the inspiration train. To have the opportunity for informality and self-governance in our studio is a gift for both of us. It feels like a luxury, but after reading this book, I realize that they are actually essential for our business.